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Weekly Musings #14 - The Next Generation?
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: September 13th 2004

One thing we gamers never really think of - at least not that often - is the next generation of gamers. Outside the gaming community, it's regarded as a "kid's" thing - the image of small children to teenagers sitting around a TV happily playing around on the Nintendo.

Yet consider the following: the average age of a gamer is 29 years old. Yes, that's right. The same kids who were 9 years old the year of 1984 - the great console gaming crash in America - are now 29 and still playing.

Twenty-nine is decently on in years. Not all gamers are that old, of course. Some are older, some are younger. Some, like Gabe, have started in on the next generation. And there are certainly plenty of kids playing, as evidenced by the popularity of "cutesy" titles like Pokemon. It's old enough that rated-M titles have a decent audience. And of course it lets sites like Gamerdad flourish too, as gamer parents try to decide what's okay for their kids to play.

The gender gap is thankfully shrinking, too. When I was out at A-Kon this year checking out the video game tournaments, I was heartened to see that the brackets were about 25% female; give it a few more years, and it will hopefully go higher. The day that game makers shake off the idea that girl gamers only want to see puzzle games or cute, fuzzy things, the day that their games stop insulting the intelligence of female gamers, we not only will see more girl gamers but we'll start seeing a lot more games where it just doesn't matter where the player is a guy or a girl.

That being said, games still need to mature a bit. The ongoing debate over open-ended games (like Grand Theft Auto) versus playable movies (like the Legacy of Kain line) continues. Afficionadoes of one style can't seem to accept that the other style is just as good, and that each has its own merits. Deus Ex wouldn't have been half as good if it hadn't had a number of plot hooks; yes, it gave the player some room to maneuver, but eventually the storyline had to continue. This may be well exploited in the online modes of MechAssault 2, which appear to be bringing into play the online multiplayer Battletech modes of warring over control for the Universe once more.

In the growing up we have done, we've also lost a certain respect for the simpler games. Pac-Man, Arkanoid, and all sorts of classic games can still attract a player, because they don't require a lot of learning to play; likewise, the old console titles of the Atari, NES, and SNES days live on. Yet "hard-core" gamers dismiss the titles as being immature, not seeing that they too are fun to play. With all sincere honesty, it's still just as much fun playing Chrono Trigger as it is playing the latest Final Fantasy title; the only thing that's really changed in the RPG genre has been the graphics. Likewise, players who enjoy Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine may as well pick up Super Mario Bros. 3 for a lark now and again. Nintendo's actually picked up on this, as evidenced by its re-releasing of various NES titles on the Gameboy Advance. 

The gamer culture is getting older. Perhaps this was a rant, perhaps this was an introspective... perhaps neither. Where we go from here is anyone's guess; video games, and gaming in general, is becoming mainstream. In some ways, it's a good thing. There's also potential for abuse, as seen by the attempts to make "convergence" devices the way of the future; anyone who's ever owned a TV/VCR combination unit can tell you what's wrong with that idea.

On the upside, I pick my copy of Fable up on Wednesday of this week. The game's either going to rock, or terminally suck, but I can guarantee it will be a unique game... and that in itself is reason to make me smile. There's still plenty of room for innovation and imagination in the world of gaming, and there are plenty of ideas we'll be leaving behind for the next generation of gamers to improve on and enjoy.

Got Comments? Send 'em to Michael (at) Glideunderground.com!
Alternatively, post 'em right here for everyone to see!

Weekly Musings 14: The Next Generation


Added:  Monday, September 13, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf

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